Hallelujah

Leonard Cohen passed away in 2016 at the age of 82. He was perhaps the greatest Canadian songwriter ever. And he might rank among the all time greats of any nationality.

His songs are infused with sexuality and spirituality. This only seems weird to those who have never fully appreciated the Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon).

His most famous song is the ubiquitous Hallelujah. It has been performed live by hundreds of artists and many more have posted videos on YouTube. It has been sung at funerals, weddings, in worship services (both Jewish and Christian), and in special events like the opening of the winter Olympics in Canada in 2010.

What I find interesting is that most of the performers do not use some of the original lyrics that Cohen himself sang on the album that introduced the song: Various Positions. After Cohen put out this album, he continued to write more stanzas for the song. It was some of these that replaced some of the lyrics of the original. It is this later version(s) that became popular in renditions by John Cale and Jeff Buckley.

It is the original last stanza that is almost universally omitted in part because the later performers only knew the versions made popular by Cale and Buckley. But it is that last stanza which makes a case that while there are many different kinds of hallelujah, it is the final one, sung in humility and confidence, that is the most important.

I did my best; it wasn’t much. / I couldn’t feel, so I learned to touch. /  I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you. / And even though it all went wrong, / I’ll stand before the Lord of Song / with nothing on my lips but Hallelujah!